Attentiveness: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
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Our children were more “Mr. Rogers kids” growing up than they were “Sesame Street kids.” When we lived in New Jersey, one of our sons, at the age of 4, even invited Mr. Rogers over for a meal when he found out that Mr. Rogers lived in the adjacent state of Pennsylvania. We were almost neighbors! Mr. Rogers sent a polite note declining, but he said he would pray for the Sunquist missionary family as they moved to Asia. And he did.
Mr. Rogers was a good neighbor to us.
I have been thinking a lot about being a neighbor in the past week. We hosted a number of Gordon-Conwell neighbors at our “home” to talk about our future and the coming sale of the Gordon-Conwell—Hamilton property. I also visited six of our neighbors in their homes and another three came to my office.
When Jesus gave the two great commands, I realize his definition of neighbor was any person in need more than someone next door. Still, if we get to know our proximate neighbors, we find out quickly that we all have needs. And that is probably Jesus’ point. In addition to hearing about their joys and summer plans, I found out about illness, family concerns, recent moves, and fears and anxieties about numerous issues. And I also found out about aloneness, if not loneliness. One neighbor said he probably knows some seminary students and staff better than his other non-seminary neighbors. Many neighbors enjoy walking our “hundred-acre wood.” For the most part, the Gordon-Conwell students and staff (especially the facilities folks) are really good neighbors. They return dogs who get out of the neighbor’s house, help to clean up fallen trees, and they welcome the walkers, the bike riders, and disc golf folks to the campus.
Which brings me to my main reflection this past week: in each of our communities, it is very important to be good neighbors in an age when it is easier for us to be siloed and distant. This requires time and intentionality. Good neighbors are not always respected or treated well, but that is the point: a good neighbor is a signpost to Jesus, who is The Good Neighbor, full of mercy and grace.
My secondary reflection was to ask, “Do we as a Gordon-Conwell community develop leaders who cultivate both of the Great Commandments?” I know we strongly emphasize loving God through worship, prayer, mission, evangelism, etc. But do we teach, equip, and disciple Christian leaders to find great joy in loving their neighbors? To some degree, I believe we do. The comments from some of our neighbors were very encouraging. “I like having Gordon-Conwell as my neighbor because the students and staff I meet are so nice and helpful.”
Mr. Rogers talked about being a neighbor and talked about neighborhood because he was a Christian minister. On the show, he emphasized being a good neighbor and inviting others to be his neighbor. As a citizen of Pittsburgh, he also lived a life loving God. We know this because we lived in Pittsburgh 17 years.
Fred Rogers’ approach can be visualized as a gentle hand reaching out. It is an invitation. An invitation with no conditions. An invitation to relationship. And I think it often can be (vicariously), an invitation to see that “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Come and see.
 A good brief write-up on Mr. Rogers was done over 20 years ago by our Academic Liaison Officer, Wendy Murray: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2000/march6/1.38.html
Dr. Scott W. Sunquist, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is author of the “Attentiveness” blog. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.